According to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), over 2.2 million Iraqis were displaced in 2007. During this time, as many as 100,000 fled to Syria and Jordan each month, and violence towards Muslims and Christians rose as they were subjected to relentless abductions, torture, and bombings. However, many remained in the divided country living mostly in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Erbil, Kurdistan. Prosperous and middleclass families found themselves living in parks and abandoned buildings with few belongings save the clothes on their back.
The Chaldean Catholic and Assyrian Orthodox churches responded immediately by providing water, food, and blankets to meet their physical needs. The churches significantly reduced suffering for the short term as many expected their predicament to last no more than a few months. As weeks became years, IDPs monetary savings began to dwindle, and the psychological trauma of the war turned into hopelessness for the future.
On the ground humanitarian organizations provided everything they could to ensure the camps were livable. However, the worry was that handouts would dampen initiative in those already suffering from depression and trauma. While this reaction is never intentional, SWIC’s partners from the Etuti Institute and St. George’s Church, Baghdad, (the only Anglican Church in Iraq and part of The Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf) recognized this was not a long-term solution.
In the fall and winter of 2017, Da’esh was defeated militarily in the Nineveh Plains and its fighters were forced from Iraq. IDPs are anxious to return to their homes in the ancient Christian city of Qaraqosh to rebuild their lives. However, very little infrastructure remains in the villages that were devastated by Da’esh’s “scorched-earth” campaign. Community-rebuilding projects have become the main focus of activist groups in the region — with the goal of not simply helping people survive, but encouraging them to start again and reestablish their lives at home.
According to a source close to St. George’s, the danger is that “the West believes the war is over and people can pick-up where they left off.” In fact, the work has just begun. SWIC first entered Erbil, Kurdistan to understand the complex chaos that the Christian people have endured. Now, SWIC emerges not only to spread awareness of the crisis affecting the Iraqi Christians, but to assure all our brothers and sisters in Iraq that we have not forgotten them and we are working with them restore their lives.